Hazelnuts are our second main crop behind the olives we grow for extra virgin olive oil.
We chose Hazelnuts for a number of reasons. They include:
- We wanted to grow a nut crop.
- Suited to our Wairarapa local soil and water table.
- Lower maintenance than most tree crops.
With the initial assistance of Murray Redpath of Wairata Hazels we have now planted more than 500 trees, with many more to come. Our first plantings were in the winter of 2001.
Chosing varieties has to be done carefully, as pollination is an issue, so it pays to have an expert with local knowledge to advise you. Hazels flower in the middle of winter, and prevent self fertilisation by simply having male flowers (catkins) first, then the tiny red female flowers later.
Thus to get a good crop it is vital to have some pollinator varieties that will have the male catkins shedding pollen at same time as your main crop varieties are bearing the female flowers. Which varieties are best will vary depending on the local conditions.
Another consideration is whether you are growing for in-shell, or mechanically cracked nuts.
Our first plantings were Barcelona and Tonda Romano plus pollinators, targeting in-shell markets. Later plantings have been mainly Whiteheart plus pollinators more suited to cracked nut markets.
Each variety has its uses, based on physical characteristics. Whiteheart is a small nut, therefore not well suited to in shell use, but it cracks cleanly an has a distinct slightly malty taste. Nuts like Ennis and Barcelona are large, look great, and have large tasty kernels, making them good for in shell use, but they don’t crack so well in bulk.
A nut from a polinator like Kens’s Late (late as in flowering late) is interesting, but the irregular shaped nuts are very difficult to bulk crack, and the kernel weight is low relative to the shell.
We have avoided varieties susceptible to big-bud mite, in particular Appleby. We have not had to use insecticides or fungacides to control pests and diseases, though there is a very low level of background insect damage.
Hazelnuts do not need to be picked when ripe. They will fall to the ground when ready, around February into March in the Wairarapa. For a quality product the fallen hazelnuts should not be left on the ground long, as dirt and rain will mar their beautiful wood-grain looks. Rats will eat them too, though we haven’t found this a problem with regular pick-ups.
Suckers — shoots growing from the roots, mostly at the base of the plant — are the biggest maintenance issue. They come on strong all growing season and past autumn, even as the main plant has died back for winter. Unfortunately, the suckers are the propagation method for hazelnut nurseries, so little effort appears to have gone into breeding low sucker varieties.
Caterpillars and cankers (die-back in part of the trunk or a branch) are the only other issues we have had.
Lansing, Keen’s Late, Barcelona
Tonda di Giffoni, Tondo Romano, Whiteheart